The 12th Annual BIFF Reveals Karen Allen’s Filmmaking Chops
By CB Wismar
The 12th Annual Berkshire International Film Festival – affectionately known as “BIFF” opens with its much-anticipated gala on Thursday, June 1 in Great Barrington. The schedule of films, as always, is eclectic.
Fresh features that capture the essence of independent film making on a global scale (“In Between” from Israel, “The Hero” starring Sam Elliot from the US, “Lost in Paris” and “The Stopover” from France) are balanced with documentaries that explore everything from plastic surgery (“Take My Nose… Please!”) to music healing a shattered Haiti (“Serenade for Haiti”) to an insightful profile of a dance school in Baltimore that promises the young women who attend the opportunity to attend college (“Step!”).
And in the center of this maelstrom of movie making is the founder and CEO of BIFF, Kelley Vickery, whose ambitious love affair with the arts came into focus when, living in the Berkshires, she realized that film was the underserved and under-presented art in the area. Dance, music, theater and fine art all had their elevated place in the region. How about film?
An early supporter of the festival was widely acclaimed actor and director (and BIFF board member) Karen Allen, whose string of theatrical film credits include starring roles in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Starman,” “Scrooged” and her return to the Indiana Jones franchise, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” A consummate actor and theatrical director, this year’s Festival will introduce her in a new role, film writer and director.
“A Tree. A Rock A Cloud. by Carson McCullers has always intrigued me,” Allen says. “For some reason, I could envision it as a film from the very first time I read it… a film about relationships and the passing of experience across generations – the giving of wisdom.”
Allen is quite candid about the challenges of moving from stage direction – she has taught at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and directed, locally, at the Berkshire Theatre Festival as well as several highly regarded productions Off-Broadway.
“Being an actor means that you dive within the character… you get to explore and develop how one person fits into the greater story,” Allen reflects. “Becoming a filmmaker – a director with responsibility for the entire story, all of the characters, all of the production elements, is quite a different challenge.”
The challenge has been well met. “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” recently won Best International Film designation at the UK’s Manchester Film Festival. Appearances at festivals in Dallas and Houstonm, and a May screening at the Short Film Corner at the Festival de Cannes in France, will presage the film’s screening in Great Barrington. “We’re honored that the Carson McCullers Foundation has been so involved in the film,” says Allen. “This is the centenary of McCullers’ birth, so the film is a fitting moment of recognition.”
A lively addition BIFF this year will be celebrity conversations offered at the newly opened Saint James Place, just steps away from the Mahaiwe and Triplex theater screens where most of the action happens. The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield will also screen films.
The Saint James Place program — entitled “Tea Talks” after its sponsorship by Harney & Sons Teas — will bring filmmakers and others face-to-face with their audience for lively commentary and discussion. Karen Allen will be talking about her film, and New York Times columnist (and economist) Paul Krugman will take part in a discussion on “All the President’s Men.”
One annual highlight of BIFF is the selection of its honored guest, and the opportunity to see and hear from one of the cinematic greats. Celebrated Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Plummer will be honored at this year’s Festival with a screening of his latest film, “The Exception.” On June 3, he will appear on the Mahaiwe stage in conversation with David Edelstein, chief film critic for New York, as well as film critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “CBS Sunday Morning.”
The complete roster of films, their screening times and locations is available on the festival website.